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Guidance in creating an Outlook / Exchange based helpdesk system

Posted on 2008-10-08
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I am planning to create a helpdesk / ticket tracking system.  I want to use Outlook and Exchange, and hopefully exploit some of the features of this software which I am sure are there, but I am not familiar with.

My application must work as follows:

On the server:
Receive an email addresses to support@domain.com
If this email has a ticket number in the header / subject, then move it to a "live cases" folder of a shared Inbox.
Otherwise assign a ticket number and place in a "new cases" folder on the shared inbox.

In Outlook:
Users will reply to emails and the conversation should be displayed in a newgroup-style tree.
Closed cases can be archived to another folder.
There should be some way to assign a priority and owner to each case.

I am familiar with the normal operation of Outlook and Exchange, and I am conversant in SQL and development, but I am sure there must be a way to achieve all this within the boundaries of Outlook and Exchange, I just need some pointers.

How can I assign a ticket number and modify the subject of incoming email, and then move it within a shared inbox?
Can I use an outlook form to change the appearance of a regular email to include a case owner and priority field?

You can see where I am going...
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Question by:RossEdwards
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3 Comments
 
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Expert Comment

by:icky2000
ID: 22675409
Sorry I can't help you at all with your solution - I'm not an Exchange dev guy. I will say though that in general I don't recommend building applications on top of an email system that you'll be replacing in a year or two. You'll be recoding major portions of your app regularly. Two other solutions come to mind: 1) Use internet standard protocols to speak to Exchange only (for instance, IMAP) to access emails and to post new emails where necessary because any version of Exchange will support IMAP or 2) consider looking at Sharepoint - it's pretty easy to do this kind of workflow stuff (including receiving email) in Sharepoint without a ton of dev work.

I realize that for any number of reasons the above comments might not be helpful but just in case, there it is.   Good luck!
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Accepted Solution

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DavidT543 earned 1500 total points
ID: 22676349
I'll ignore the previous comments on the basis that they are exactly what they say... a non Exchange dev guy commenting on Exchange / Outlook development.

Outlook and Exchange are perfectly good tools for developing a helpdesk system. You can take a look and see the kind of comercial Helpdesk systems built in to Outlook to give you an idea of what is possible. Here are links to a couple that have been around for quite a while and are mature and stable.:
http://www.crowcanyon.com/ccs_helpdesk_40/CCS_HelpDesk_40_main.asp
http://www.kalmstrom.com/products/Outlook/PFHelpDesk/

I would use a mail enabled public folder to receive your emails. I wrote an agent script using CDO to process incoming messages for a customer of mine for his helpdesk application. It replies to the sender with an acknowledgement email, assigns a unique number, and creates a log message ready for the helpdesk staff to access. Rather than changing the incoming email, it takes the sender / recipients and message body, and creates a new item in a 'Helpdesk task' folder using a custom task form.

If I were to start writing an application like this now, I would use Redemption - specifically the RDO element which replaces CDO, and enables logging onto exchange without Outlook being open (or installed even - you just need a MAPI driver) . I use it alot. You could write a Windows service to monitor the public folder and then do whatever item manipulation is required. Take a look at Redemption here: http://www.dimastr.com/redemption/   Its the RDO element that is really useful.

By the way by preference I would also use VB6 rather than .net as my development tool - but .net is a viable option and there are lots of examples of Outlook development using .net.

You should check out www.outlookcode.com for all Outlook coding questions.


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Author Closing Comment

by:RossEdwards
ID: 31504483
Thanks for the pointers both.  I will award the points to David as you have provided some useful lines to investigate.
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